Seize the Future by Harnessing the Power of Data

Article by Kriss Deiglmeier: “Data is a form of power. And the sad reality is that power is being held increasingly by the commercial sector and not by organizations seeking to create a more just, sustainable, and prosperous world. A year into my tenure as the chief global impact officer at Splunk, I became consumed with the new era driven by data. Specifically, I was concerned with the emerging data divide, which I defined as “the disparity between the expanding use of data to create commercial value, and the comparatively weak use of data to solve social and environmental challenges.”2

We need to face the fact that the underlying foundation of society is shifting while the social sector is not. This foundational change is laid out in the new book coauthored by Eric Schmidt, Henry Kissinger, and Daniel Huttenlocker, The Age of AI. They make the case that we are moving into a coexistence between humanity and machines. From a historical context, the evolution of humans started in the age of faith that evolved into the age of reason. The future upon us now is the age of people and machines. The world around us will increasingly be full of intelligent systems that will be humanlike but not human. Society, especially the social sector, must get ahead of the implications of that and plan for both the good and bad impact it will have on society. After all, who better to look out for the “people” part of the “people and machines” than the human-centric social sector?

To effectively address the emerging data future, the social impact sector must build an entire impact data ecosystem for this moment in time—and the next moment in time. The way to do that is by investing in those areas where we currently lag the commercial sector. Consider the following gaps:

  • Nonprofits are ill-equipped with the financial and technical resources they need to make full use of data, often due to underfunding.
  • The sector’s technical and data talent is a desert compared to the commercial sector.
  • While the sector is rich with output and service-delivery data, that data is locked away or is unusable in its current form.
  • The sector lacks living data platforms (collaboratives and data refineries) that can make use of sector-wide data in a way that helps improve service delivery, maximize impact, and create radical innovation.

The harsh realities of the sector’s disparate data skills, infrastructure, and competencies show the dire current state. For the impact sector to transition to a place of power, it must jump without hesitation into the arena of the Data Age—and invest time, talent, and money in filling in these gaps…(More)”.